Bangladesh joins the list of nations battling ISIS-linked insurgent groups, with a string of brutal murders perpetrated by a militia linked to the Islamic State, plus a few killings said to have been carried out by direct operatives of ISIS itself.
The insurgent Islamist militia is called Ansar Bangla, also known as the “Ansarullah Bangla Team” online. The name means “Bangladeshi Helpers of God.” They were dismissed by the authorities as “a group of wannabe jihadists who did little more than chat online,” according to the Wall Street Journal, until it began hacking atheist bloggers to death with machetes. The first of these brutal slayings was carried out in February, and there have been three more since then.
That first victim, Avijit Roy, waged a long online battle with Islamist extremists and collected a pile of death threats before he and his wife were attacked by a pack of knife- and machete-wielding thugs after attending a book fair. His wife lost a finger, while Roy lost his life. There were reportedly witnesses to the attack, but no one intervened to save him.
The subsequent three victims were murdered in similar fashion in March, May, and August, slaughtered in or near their homes with knives, machetes, and meat cleavers. The Bangladeshi police have been criticized for not doing enough to stop the wave of killings. Fellow activists claim the most recent victim, 40-year-old Niloy Neel, complained to the police about being shadowed by suspicious individuals a few months before he was killed, but his report was not taken seriously. It has also been charged that the murder investigations are proceeding slowly because the authorities indulge Islamic fundamentalism and are reluctant to confront the killers.
Emboldened by the success of their murderous efforts, Ansar Bangla began publishing hit lists of secular bloggers, and demanding that the government of their Muslim-majority nation “revoke the citizenship of these enemies of Islam” or else “we will hunt them down in whatever part of God’s world we find them and kill them right there.”
This hit list was not limited to people inside the borders of Bangladesh. While not naming any of the names, CNN reported that the targets included “nine people in the United Kingdom, eight in Germany, two in the United States, one in Canada and one in Sweden.” Furthermore, not all of them had Bangladeshi citizenships for the government to revoke, had it been so inclined.
Ansar Bangla was previously linked to al-Qaeda, but they seem even hotter for ISIS and its global Muslim “caliphate” these days. The Wall Street Journal notes they have translated Islamic State recruiting videos and the ISIS magazine, Dabiq, into the local language, along with the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire. The Bangladeshi group likes to produce the same sort of slick promotional videos ISIS is known for and has featured ISIS flags in some of them. In May, the police arrested a member of the group who was allegedly recruiting Bangladeshis to fight with the Islamic State.
ISIS, in turn, has referred to Ansar Bangla’s religious leader as “our sheikh” and spoken of “a tsunami on the doorstep of Bangladesh.” The Ansar Bangla agenda calls for jihad and the supremacy of Islamic law, while their secular adversaries wrote critically of sharia and said the government of Bangladesh was too heavily influenced by it, an irreconcilable difference of opinion the militants began settling with machetes.
Last week, two foreign citizens—one Italian, the other Japanese—were shot to death by mysterious gunmen who escaped on motorbikes. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for both shootings, describing the victims as “crusaders.” However, the government denied ISIS involvement and suggested the murders were the work of home-grown militants linked to political opposition parties.
The New York Times reports that foreign intelligence services have begun warning their citizens of a heightened terrorist threat in Bangladesh. British officials have been warned not to attend large gatherings of Westerners that would make inviting terrorist targets, while the Australian cricket team canceled a series of matches that were to be played in Bangladesh.